Title: Yes, Your Grace
Developer: Brave At Night
Release Date: March 6, 2020
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: No More Robots
With the success of the television series Game of Thrones and medieval simulator games like Crusader Kings II, it’s not-so-strange first-time game developer Brave at Night staked their debut on a stylized simulation of a king making tough decisions in olden times.
Yes, Your Grace is perhaps best described as a “simulator,” but similar to other slice-of-life simulation games like Papers, Please, This War of Mine, or Game Dev Story, it’s a game that largely relies on its narrative more than its mechanics. To its credit, much of Yes, Your Grace’s style and charm set it up to be a new favorite within the niche it occupies, but a handful of poor design decisions hold it back from achieving its potential.
Yes, Your Grace gives players control of King Eryk of Davern — a husband and father to three daughters trying to make ends meet for his kingdom. The story begins in media res and shows Eryk rallying his troops before a significant battle during a siege of his own castle. The game then flashes back to “one year ago” and quickly sets up the coming battle and the royal conflicts leading up to it. In terms of a framing mechanic, Yes, Your Grace’s flashback is a good way of communicating to the player the length of the game. The game’s loop consists of completing a variety of actions for each “week” of the year. Complete 52 weeks, and you’re at the end of the game.
For each week in the year, Eryk must make decisions at court. This is presented to the player as a stream of NPCs entering the throne room and making some sort of request. Successfully completing these requests will result in either man to join your military or contentment to keep your subjects happy. You need men to prepare for the coming battles, and you need contentment to prevent a revolt against your rule.
The nature of these requests can be anything from building a shrine to letting a poet follow you around for a few weeks, but they ultimately pull from three main resources: gold, supplies, and time. The latter resource is really the time of your agents — three professionals in your court who specialize in military, witchcraft, and hunting, but their area of knowledge doesn’t really matter.
These agents can be sent around the map to explore the world, or sometimes throne room requests specifically ask for one of these agents’ assistance. All of these systems are cleanly introduced to the player, and the parameters of your success are clearly defined, so there’s no learning curve. You start the game and immediately feel like you’re a King deciding what’s best for your realm and family.
Eryk’s family plays an important role in the game’s storyline and hooking the player’s interests. Simulation games tend to balance between narrative and mechanics, and it’s clear the hook for Yes, Your Grace is the narrative.
Eryk himself doesn’t have much of a personality — or even the potential of a personality — but your wife Aurelea and three daughters (oldest to youngest) Lorsulia, Asalia, and Cedani have clearly defined personalities with accompanying dramatic arcs. An early plot point for the game is the medieval reality of daughters being married to kingdoms to forge alliances — even if the royal prince is kind of a prick. You quickly get attached to these characters, and that investment shapes how you make decisions.
These developments prompt the player to decide what kind of king they want to be. Do they stick up for your family or succumb to the realities of the era? These simulation games are all about feeling that internal conflict unique to a specific setting. Often times the enjoyment of these games is the suffering that comes from failure. For example, no one expected a happy ending to Papers, Please — a game about working as a customs agent for a totalitarian government — and no one held it against that game for not providing the player the opportunity to become Neo from The Matrix and single-handedly revolt against the structure of oppression.
In that same vein, it’s easy to look at Yes, Your Grace’s simple interface, choice-based gameplay loop, and assume this is an Alpha Protocol/Mass Effect/Fallout “choose your own adventure” game, but it is far more directed than that. Players should temper their expectations for the amount of freedom they have. Yes, Your Grace is a very guided experience and doesn’t have any randomized mechanics to add variety through multiple playthroughs. Even with that in mind, the experience quickly becomes disappointing.
Most of this disappointment comes from arbitrary mechanics. On a macro level, the game tells you how you can succeed or fail, but the specifics are vague. You know your kingdom needs gold, supplies, men, and contentment, but there is no way to proactively seek out those resources. Your ability to rule is based on the requests you get from your subjects.
Sometimes the completion of a request results in a particular resource, but you never know what you’re getting or — more importantly — when you’re getting it. Requests can take up to three weeks to complete. The end of every week gives the player the option to mitigate losses, but whatever reliable gains come from taxes are quickly outpaced by drains on these same resources.
One of the most infuriating drains on your resources is paying gold to retain your agents each week. You choose which agents to hire during the end-of-week summary, so you exclusively decide if you need an agent without anything informing that decision. It’s pure guesswork, which, as we all know, is a pillar of rewarding game design.
There are several ways to resolve this arbitrariness, but each of these “solutions” is bad. The most notable is the autosave function. Before a new week begins, it autosaves just before you allocate resources for the following week. This means if you start court and notice no one requested assistance from your hunter — it’s time to reload the last save and deselect him from your roster for the week.
Sometimes problems arise multiple weeks after you make a decision but worry not — the game maintains roughly ten autosaves — you can replay all of that content over and over until something good happens. You might think it’s my own fault for making the game less fun by save-scumming, but the alternative would have been hitting a “game over” on week 33 and facing the decision of replaying three hours of content or merely hitting “uninstall” and post “fuck this game” with a thumbs down recommendation.
Even if you don’t save-scum, it becomes obvious at the halfway point, and near the end of the game, there are artificial modifications to increase the difficulty. You start your rule with 20 contentment, and early in the game, failed requests may net minus one contentment. If it’s a truly monumental failure, you’ll receive minus two contentment. Late in the game, I chose not to decide which grieving mother got ownership of a newly found child and got whacked with minus five contentment.
I feel like that decision was way less important than the flooded village; I chose not to help because I ran out of money earlier in the game. In fact, a lot of the endgame content scaling is bizarre. It seems simultaneously way too punishing and exempt from any consequence. Leading up to the final battle, my contentment dipped to negative two, resulting in a peasant revolt where I gave up 25 gold and 20 supplies to keep the peace. This hefty cost ensured I could only complete a fraction of the required objectives prior to the finale. It didn’t end up mattering because even as my soldiers starved and the enemy eviscerated my meager defenses, I cruised to a good ending. Although honestly, if I got a bad ending — or worse a “game over” — after an extended 20-minute battle sequence, I would have been pissed.
My endgame experience may be emblematic of the disappointment inherent to Yes, Your Grace. It’s a game concept that has a lot going for it, but by the end, you’re just looking for a reason to write it off completely. Looking at the developer’s original Kickstarter, it seems like this game has had a dramatic transformation from something more procedural to a very guided narrative. This change could explain the weakness of the game’s design.
I’m sure things like “difficulty” were an afterthought and thrown in without much context of what makes this any fun. I wish the developer had relied more on its narrative rather than mechanics, in the same way, no one thinks of games like Papers, Please or This War of Mine as “easy,” even if their challenges are rather trivial. Unfortunately, the flaw of the mechanics makes an otherwise enjoyable game immensely frustrating. Yes, Your Grace’s clean presentation and likable plot elements do a lot to win over the player, but it’s not enough to stomach the bad taste left by vague objectives and arbitrary fail states.
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